My Material Weakness – And My Battle to Overcome It

Every once in a while, I’ll go through a short phase where I become obsessive about books, particularly ones not found at my local library. I’ll hit PaperBackSwap hard and sometimes even splurge at the bookstore, picking up several books in a short period. This actually happened fairly recently, thankfully fueled by gift certificates and coupons at Borders.

Yet, as I sit here, I think about books I’d like to read. I’d love to have The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao on my reading pile, but the wait list at the library is nearly infinitely long. I also have this big pile of books right here that seem equally compelling. Yet there’s this whisper in my ear. It’s only $11.20 at Amazon. You can easily afford it. Just order it.

Why do I feel compelled to do this? I usually have a small mountain of books at home waiting to be read. Right now, my “to-be-read” pile is enormous – it would easily take me three or four months of sustained reading to get through the pile. It occupies an entire shelf and part of a second shelf in my office.

When will I have enough books? What is enough?

your money or your lifeIn Your Money or Your Life, Joe Dominguez hits upon the idea perfectly on page 27 with his description of a “gazingus pin”: “A gazingus pin is any item that you just can’t pass by without buying. Everybody has them. They run the gamut from pocket calculators and tiny screwdrivers to pens and chocolate kisses.”

For me, it’s books. Although I’ve found creative ways to really stretch my book dollars (relying on willpower, avoiding bookstores, using PaperBackSwap, routinely emptying out my book collection, and so on), I still have this incessant desire to pick up books.

It’s time to face facts. It’s an addiction. One that creates a slow leak from my wallet.

And, with any addiction, there’s no time like the present to stand up and do something about it.

Starting today, August 5, I will not buy any books for one year, excepting gifts for others. Not a dime on books of any kind. Instead, I’ll get through the books I have to fuel my reading habit and also rely on my local library and any other sources I have for free books.

This is going to be rather hard for me, considering that books are by far my biggest remaining splurge item. But time after time, they feel like a splurge that’s out of my control, one that just keeps sucking away money.

Here are some of the tactics I’m going to use.

First, a moratorium on bookstores. I’m going to stop going to bookstores entirely, even though I love browsing through them. Why? Every time I go in, I always seem to leave with a purchase or two.

Second, a commitment to reading through what I have saved up before acquiring or even checking out any more books. I have a giant pile of books to read on my own bookshelf. No more new books until I’ve run through all of those.

Third, a “want-to-read” list that I don’t act on until next August 5. I usually jot down books I want to read on my pocket notebook when I hear about them, then investigate them later on Amazon or at the library or bookstore. Instead, I’m just going to keep a list of them on my computer, not to be acted on until next August 5.

Now, let’s turn the tables.

What’s your little weakness, your “gazingus pin”? What thing can’t you help but buy? How much is it really costing you each month?

Even better, can you stand up alongside me and give that thing up for a year, too?

Let me know in the comments. I think both of our wallets will be better for it.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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